Standing Committee E (Question of Privilege)

– in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 5th December 1949.

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Photo of Mr Douglas Clifton Brown Mr Douglas Clifton Brown , Hexham 12:00 am, 5th December 1949

I have to inform the House that I have received a report from the Serjeant at Arms on the incident which was raised last Wednesday. After considering the report—this was the case of Mr. Christopher Powell, the House will remember—I have come to the conclusion that there is prima facie evidence that Mr. Powell did endeavour to persuade the hon. Member for Queen's University of Belfast (Professor Savory) not to enter Standing Committee Room E on the morning of Tuesday, 29th November.

Whether or not such interference constitutes a breach of Privilege is a matter for the House and not for me to decide. I must point out, however, that the hon. Member for Ashford (Mr. E. P. Smith) did not bring the matter to the notice of the House until 24 hours too late to be able to avail himself of the precedence given to matters of Privilege raised at the earliest possible moment. Under this important Rule I could not, therefore, allow the matter to be raised on Wednesday last before Public Business. But, of course, it is open to any hon. Member to put down a Motion and to ask for time for its discussion.

There is, however, another aspect of this case. Mr. Powell is employed as secretary of the Inter-Parliamentary Union and in that capacity is given accommodation in the Palace of Westminster and is allowed to contact Members and to entertain, at the direction of the Chairman of the Union, in the same way as the secretary of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association is so permitted.

I do not consider that it is desirable or fair that these facilities should be given to a gentleman who is also engaged in approaching Members of Parliament on various aspects of Public Business, since such facilities are not allowed to other gentlemen engaged in similar business in the Lobbies. To give them to Mr. Powell in these circumstances appears directly contrary to the steps taken by the Serjeant at Arms at my direction to prevent the continuance of undesirable practices in connection with this House such as were revealed in the Report of the Lynskey Tribunal.

Photo of Lieut-Colonel Sir Thomas Moore Lieut-Colonel Sir Thomas Moore , Ayr District of Burghs

As I was in some way connected with the opposition to the Bill in question, I should like to put to you, Sir, two points for your consideration. Is it not within the tradition of Parliament that any member of the public can lobby any Member of Parliament in regard to the support of or opposition to any particular Bill? Secondly, is it not also within Parliamentary tradition or convention that any group of Members of Parliament who may be opposed to or in support of a Bill can engage or arrange with some convenient or suitable person to co-ordinate their efforts? I submit that, in this particular case, some of us who were opposed to the Bill and who could not be in our places to oppose it at that time thought it suitable, and possibly convenient to all concerned, that Mr. Powell should be entrusted to ensure that those others—[Interruption]—may I finish my sentence?—to ensure that those others of us who were equally opposed to the Bill might be in their places to see that the opposition was properly represented.

Photo of Mr Frederick Skinnard Mr Frederick Skinnard , Harrow East

May I ask your guidance, Mr. Speaker? Does the right of the ordinary public to lobby Members of Parliament extend to invading the Upper Corridor during the period when a Committee is sitting?

Photo of Mr Douglas Clifton Brown Mr Douglas Clifton Brown , Hexham

Those are matters, I think, that come under the first half of my Ruling, and it is not for me to give a judgment on that. Those are matters for the House of Commons, which can regulate its own procedure.

Photo of Mr Anthony Eden Mr Anthony Eden , Warwick and Leamington

Whilst thanking you for your Ruling, Mr. Speaker, for my part I should like to consider this matter a little further; maybe the Leader of the House would, too. I cannot help feeling that it cannot be a very good plan that persons who are not themselves Members of Parliament, should be in a position to lobby in the Committee Corridor.

Photo of Mr Douglas Clifton Brown Mr Douglas Clifton Brown , Hexham

As I thought I had made clear, that really is a matter for the House and not for me.

Photo of Professor Douglas Savory Professor Douglas Savory , Queen's University of Belfast

I should like to plead for indulgence in this matter. The representations that were made had not the slightest effect upon me. I should have thought that it was a most unfair procedure to abstain from attending a Standing Committee to prevent a quorum being formed on a Bill. In my view, such conduct would have been altogether unworthy of a Member representing a great University.

Photo of Sir Frank Sanderson Sir Frank Sanderson , Ealing East

May I say a few words regarding Commander Powell and the position he holds with the Inter-Parliamentary Union? When it is suggested that the secretary of that Union should abstain from any other activities, I think it is only fair that I, as one who has been associated with that organisation before and since Commander Powell took the secretaryship, should say that the position is really more or less an honorary one. Until quite recently the payment which he received was a nominal fee of 50 guineas a year. Even today his fee is £250 a year, and it is known by all those associated with the Inter-Parliamentary Union that not only is Commander Powell a man of the highest integrity, but that he has worked day and night and has done a great work in the activities, development and welfare of the Inter-Parliamentary Union. Whether or not the Inter-Parliamentary Union is to have an official, full-time paid secretary is, I submit, a matter for the Union to consider and not this House.

Photo of Mr Douglas Clifton Brown Mr Douglas Clifton Brown , Hexham

I think I have made it clear that I did not wish to make any accusation at all against Mr. Powell. I stated the facts, and I hope now that the Inter-Parliamentary Union, having heard what I said, will take the matter into consideration.

Photo of Sir Charles MacAndrew Sir Charles MacAndrew , Bute and Northern

In respect of lobbying, is there not a difference between ordinary lobbying as we understand it and any member of the public trying to prevent an hon. Member from carrying out a duty to attend a Standing Committee, to which he has been appointed by the Selection Committee?

Photo of Mr Douglas Clifton Brown Mr Douglas Clifton Brown , Hexham

I thought that was a matter for the House and not for me, as I explained.

Photo of Mr Herbert Morrison Mr Herbert Morrison , Lewisham East

As the deputy Leader of the Opposition referred to me in connection with this matter, I only wish to say that I personally think there is point in what the hon. and gallant Member for Ayr and Bute, Northern (Sir C. Mac-Andrew) has said. As for myself, I see no reason why we should dissent from the view that you, Mr. Speaker, have expressed, which, if I may say so, I think is right.